Sunday was Mother’s Day. So there’s no better time to talk about mummies than right now.
Of all the classic monsters, the mummy is the least scary in my opinion. Unlike its undead or living dead or however you want to refer to them cousin, the zombie, the mummy lacks a fierceness. Mummies do not seek brains or human flesh. Most of the time they shamble at a speed that is anything but threatening. Occasionally they can turn into a human form, but they rely a lot on curses and magic. I find nothing particularly scary about that.
They are a monster for another time. I believe this shows in the attempts to bring them back into fashion in the late 20th Century and the more recent attempt with Tom Cruise (a monster to talk about another day). The mummy as the classic monster rises from the time when everyone was crazy for Egypt. Tombs of the pharaohs began to be uncovered in the late 1800s, mostly by the British. They found mummies and incantations written on the walls of the tombs. This led the Western world to go crazy over all things Egyptian. This continued into the 1920s when King Tut was found and of course, the infamous curse related to the discovery. Like anything discovered from an earlier time, our minds run wild with what ancient things might have been resurrected when the tombs were uncovered.
By now, we know nothing has been. Mummies are monsters that work great as a retro throwback, but not very well in modern times, unless there is a special twist. Sometimes that happens like with Joe R. Lansdale’s Bubba Ho-Tep. This story successfully brings the old school monster into modern times. It has some help from some alt-history as well.
A way that might make mummies timely again is to look at other kinds of mummies. Lots of civilizations mummified bodies. The native South Americans did this. It’s time for a movie about Incan mummies coming back to avenge the destruction of the environment. You can have that plot line if it hasn’t been used before. I have no desire to write a mummy story.
I recently saw a program discussing mummies in Japan. Apparently there was a religious sect where the monks would mummify themselves while still living. They went through a grueling routine that included burying themselves alive with only a reed to breathe through. After a certain amount of days, the other monks would dig up the person and find that they had indeed been mummified. That is terrifying. Why are those kinds of mummies not out there wreaking havoc?
Maybe I’ve been too rough on mummies. They have a venerable place in the pantheon of classic monsters. They make fantastic, easy Halloween costumes. I loved Yummy Mummy cereal. However, without a tweak or new take, they are tired monsters of a bygone era. I don’t believe that they will ever be a successful scare again, but love your mummy anyway.